Jacky Ickx

This will be the first in a series of profiles of F1 drivers from days gone by. My ambition is to learn more about drivers who were great personalities in F1 but never won a Championship or, perhaps, even a race and I hope you will enjoy finding out what I discover. To that end I will kick you off with "Monsieur Mans", Jacky Ickx.

As his nickname suggest, Jacques Bernard Ickx is probably mostly remembered by motor racing fans for his exploits at Le Mans and, until Tom Kristensen came along, Jacky was indeed the master of Le Sarthe with 6 class wins starting in 1969 and ending in 1982.

Like many, Ickx came to motor sport via motorcycles and was Belgian Trail Champion in 1963. He moved on to racing saloon cars and was Belgian Champion in 1965 and won the Spa 24 hours in 1966. Ickx moved in to F1 in 1966 with a Ken Tyrrell entered F2 Matra at the Nurburgring in Germany but a first lap accident ended his race and, unfortunately, cost the life of John Taylor who was also involved in the crash.

Ickx was back in 1968 again racing an F2 Matra in Germany and doing 2 races in a Cooper Maserati at the end of the season. His first race in the Cooper at Monza netted him his first World Championship point with a sixth place despite having a puncture on the final lap.

1968 saw Ickx in a Ferrari and he won his first race in wet conditions at Rouen as well as scoring 3 more podiums and finishing 4th in the driver championship.


'69 and '70 marked the high points in Ickx's F1 career as he finished 2nd in the drivers championship. At Brabham in 1969 Jacky won two Grands Prix and was runner up to Jackie Stewart. Back at Ferrari in 1970 Ickx was the only man who could take the title from the late Jochen Rindt. Ickx won 3 Grands Prix and later stated that he was glad he didn't win the title against a man who couldn't defend his chances.

I will now selfishly post a picture of my favourite F1 car, as I'm writing this thread. Here's Jacky in the Ferrari 312 B at South Africa in 1972.


Image courtesy of Brian Watson, http://www.brianwatsonphoto.co.uk/FormulaOne/indexyears.html

Ickx continued with Ferrari until 1973, winning two more races, one each in 1971 and 1972. In 1973 Ferrari were on a down turn so as as well as driving for the famous marque Ickx also drove a race each for McLaren and Frank Williams, taking third pace in Germany for McLaren behind the dominant Tyrrell cars of that season.

Ickx moved to Lotus in 1974 but the aging lotus 72 (now in E configuration) was not a competitive car. The overly complex Lotus 76 didn't prove much better and Jacky left the team half way through 1975 with the promise from Colin Chapman that he would be re-employed if Lotus produced a competitive car.

From 1976 onwards Ickx made a few appearances in F1 hopping from Williams to Ensign and finally , in 1979, taking over from the injured Patrick Depailler at Ligier. This would be Jacky's last appearance in an F1 car but it certainly wasn't the end of his competitive driving career as he turned his attention to sports cars.

Ickx won his first Le Mans race in 1969, partnering Jackie Oliver in a Ford GT40. He went on to win again in 1975, '76 and '77 and then 1981 and 1982 with three of his six wins partnered by Derek Bell. Ickx retired from professional racing at the end of 1985 after a tragic accident at Spa which resulted in the death of Stefan Bellof.

Ickx took part in the Paris Dakar rally winning the event in 1983 and being runner up in 1989. He is Clerk of the Course at the Monaco Grand Prix and now drives in many historic events such as the Goodwood Festival.

During his F1 career, a time when many F1 drivers met with a tragic end, Ickx won 8 races, took 13 poles and 14 fastest laps but he will always be remembered for his exploits at Le Mans. He is also a very useful answer to the "name three famous Belgians" question.

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When Ickx joined Ferrari in 1968, it was rumored that Amon was tasked with setting up his car as well as his own. Can you imagine such a thing today on a front-line team?

I have never quite understood how Ickx was so much more impressive in the wet than in the dry. He was truly a rainmaster throughout his entire career. He also seemed to always be at his best at Spa (no surprise) and Nurburgring, the two most difficult courses in F1.

I have always thought that his best season was 1969, when he proved to be the only driver able to push Stewart on a consistent basis. What makes that particularly impressive is that his Brabham was the 1968 chassis with Cosworth power replacing the 4-cam Repco, while Stewart's Matra was brand-new. Plus his exploits in the obsolescent Gulf GT40 against the Porsche factory team were nearly the stuff of legend.
Of course, I hope no one talks about clerk of the course and Porsche driver, Jacky Ickx, responding to Porsche powered Alain Prost's desperate hand signals to red flag the 1984 Monaco GP as the Toleman of Ayrton Senna drew ever closer in the rain by bringing the race to an early conclusion and how those eventual half points cost Prost the championship.

Oh wait, I just did.

Actually, anyone can watch footage of that race and see just how incredibly wet it was when the race was stopped. In today's world of F1 I doubt they would have started.
There were two possible scenarios for 1970 that I have always pondered about:
1. Amon stayed at Ferrari, rather going off to drive the brick of a March 701. Amon vs Ickx in the 312B would have been epic, and I believe that Amon would have, at the very least, attained the victory that eluded him throughout his career.

2. Ickx stayed at Brabham and drove the BT33 which proved itself competitive with the Lotus 72 and allowed Black Jack Brabham to achieve his final F1 victory. Would Ickx have gained the title with the added reliability of the Cosworth vs the Ferrari?
Actually, anyone can watch footage of that race and see just how incredibly wet it was when the race was stopped. In today's world of F1 I doubt they would have started.


Until the advent of safety-car periods which made comparisons a bit less relevant, I believe this race remained the slowest average speed of any Grand Prix to have been run at during the WDC's entire history.
So the rain must have been quite bad.
There was an interesting comment in the Wiki entry for Ickx that until Jack Brabham broke his foot in the 1969 season Jacky was very much an "also ran". Once the team concentrated their efforts on Ickx he stepped up his game and started winning races. Very Alonsoesque in that respect, to make a comparison with a modern driver.
If you look at it, the comparison is really spot-on. The 1973 Ferrari was really a dog of car and Ickx was able to drag it to places that it didn't really deserve. That was also the year that both Ferrari and Ickx fell out of love with each other. Some of the press was reportedly accusing the drivers, particularly Ickx of not getting enough of the car that must have infuriated the Belgian.

Although not always known for his speed, Ickx was usually mixing up with the leaders by the end of the race, probably aided by his endurance events experience where consistency is absolutely key. Supposedly indiscipline was one of his defect, I can really speak to that, and the lack of commitment with testing the car really didn't help much, but I guess back then it was much easier to simple drive the nuts out of the car and then go home, or in Ickx case, go run somewhere else; Sports Cars, F1, F2, F3, Rally, Can-Am, Tin Tops you name it. Extremely versatile and in a good day as fast as the fastest like in 1970 when he would match or even overcome the all-conquering Lotus 72.

One of greats for sure and sometimes underrated driver that could survive one of the most dangerous and turbulent eras of Gran Prix driving.
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